Christian Council calls for action to stop HIV stigmatization

The Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) on Wednesday said though the HIV prevalence has stabilized more needed to tackle stigma and discrimination, a major challenge in the fight against the epidemic.

At a press briefing in Accra, the Reverend Nii Noi Odonkor, Chairman of the Ga Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, said stigma and discrimination continued to threaten the very existence of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) since they were denied their basic human rights.

“It constitutes one of the greatest barriers to dealing with the epidemic as it deters people from going to test, and even when they do, disclosure is not an option for them,” he said.

He said due to stigma and discrimination, PLHIV did not seek treatment and even when they did the issue of adherence became a problem and that did not allow the achievement of universal access to care and treatment.
Rev. Odonkor blamed stigma and discrimination on gender inequality, lack of social protection for the poor and vulnerable and some cultural practice that were very unfriendly and do not seek the interest of PLHIVs.

As a voice of the voiceless, he said, the CCG, in partnership with the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), undertook a project dubbed, “Reducing Stigma and Discrimination Using a Local Right Based Approach in Three Districts in Ghana.”

The project goal was to contribute to national effort in the reduction of the epidemic by fighting stigma and discrimination.

Three districts, Ga West, Dangme West and Manya Krobo, were selected to examine the socio-cultural practices that reinforce stigma and discrimination as well as the gender inequalities that expose PLHIVs to stigma.

Training programmes were organized for a cross-section of people from the districts out of which a training manual on stigma was adapted and produced for future trainings, he said.

Rev. Odonkor added that behavioural change material were also developed to aid individuals who were trained to further lead the campaign in the districts.

He noted that strong partnership had been formed and the level of community ownership was also very high giving the hope for sustainability after the end of the programme.

“The Council is glad that the campaign has yielded some modest result. There has been an increase in the number of PLHIV who are all out in their respective communities on the campaign trail. In addition, a PLHIV association has been formed and supported.”

Mrs Jane Mansa Okrah, Social Mobilization and Partnership Adviser of UNAIDS, giving a global perspective on the epidemic, said the 2009 annual progress report on universal access indicates that Botswana and South Africa were able to provide services and medicines to more than 80 per cent of HIV positive pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

In Ghana by June 2010, a little below 30 per cent of HIV positive pregnant women received the necessary treatment and about 40 per cent of women were tested for HIV as part of their antenatal.

She commended the CCG for championing the campaign against stigma discrimination.

Mr Comos Ohene Adjei, Senior Project Manager of the Ghana AIDS Commission, who launched the campaign materials, said the reduction in prevalence was not imaginary but more needed to be done to stem the stigma tide.

He said the National Strategic Framework 2006-2010 (NSF II) was therefore designed to provide an overall planning guide for a vastly expanded effort to deal with the epidemic, including improvements to the supporting environment, prevention of infections and targeted behaviour change programmes.

Source: GNA

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